March 26, 2014

Writing Club Wednesday: How to Interview an Author

Happy Wednesday, Misfiteers! Today I decided to talk about a different kind of writing than the typical novel stuff (pun? sort of?): The interview. As I do more of these as both a blogger and an author, I can't help reflecting on my time as a Journalism major at NYU and remembering how much about the art of doing it I learned there. And given how common interviewing has become along with the rise of blogging, I thought it was a topic worth talking about!

To my mind, the most fundamental part of interviewing is:

  • Know your subject, by which I mean, do your research on their basics
If you're interviewing an author, take the time to learn things like what they write (not just what they're publishing) and whether they're a debut (which presents its own interesting set of questions and challenges). I have so much love for interviews that focus on multiple aspects of what a person does, because how often are we really only doing one thing? And yet, it always strikes me that though so many people have read my blog and almost none have read my YA, I'm always asked about the latter and never about the former. Writing is writing, and the questions you're asking about the craft and process are probably relevant to blogging, fanfiction, short story writing, poetry, and anything else an author may do on the side!

Along the same vein:
  • Read other interviews done with that author
I love being interviewed, as I'm sure many people do, but it does start to feel a bit pointless to keep answering the same questions over and over again. Not only that, but it feels like pressure, too, to somehow find new and interesting responses even though the answer hasn't changed.

On the flip side, sometimes reading other interviews can prompt questions you wouldn't have previously asked. One of my favorite interviews I've seen on a blog is this one done by the lovely Heather at Flyleaf Review with NA author Leah Raeder. If you read the content, you can see that's what makes it truly great, but I also love the way the questions reflect that she's already read another (okay, my, which I say mostly because she mentions it at the bottom of hers, and we did not know each other at that point) interview with the same author. Instead of repeating them, she builds off them to write related questions. Where I asked: "So, I’m just gonna come out and say it – your book is pretty freaking hot. Got any tips for the squeamish on writing scenes on the sexier side?" (To which Leah basically responded "Alcohol"), Heather then asked:
On a lighter note, I've read that writing those incredibly steamy sex scenes was not the easiest thing and that there may or may not have been alcohol involved in the creation process. That made me smile because sometimes I write my best reviews with a few glasses of wine in me. From the start, did you feel that including those detailed sex scenes was integral to the story?
 New question; new answer. Presented another detail about the subject, but without rehashing.

Also a great way to research for questions?
  • Go beyond the basics
So often, my favorite questions from interviews I've held have come from spending some time on an author's blog or website. Case in point, I just recently interviewed NA author Sarah Harian for my personal blog, and in looking her up discovered that she also has a history of writing Fanfiction, which I promptly turned in to one of my favorite questions of the interview. Because how can you not ask about Fanfiction??

Similarly, some time ago, I interviewed YA author Courtney Summers, and when you have someone who writes high school that awesomely and with that much edge, you can't not want to know what drives them. So I could've asked her about her high school experiences and how they inform her writing. And that would've been a waste, because she's already written a great blog post about the fact that she dropped out at 14, and so her entire answer could've been a fact that was already easily accessible to her fans. Instead, I got to turn that into a little more to build on what was already out there.
  • Target what makes an author truly unique
Recently, I was asked how I end up interviewing the people I do for my blog, and I admitted that a big reason I rarely interview is that I prefer to focus on people doing things I find extremely interesting. I might love your book(s), but I don't feel the same compulsion to throw questions at you; I'll just fangirl, rec you to death, and support you as best I can. But when I see an author doing something I find really unique and interesting, whether in their writing or social media or within the greater realm of publishing, questions practically write themselves.

Sometimes, you don't get the luxury of being that picky about who you interview, but that doesn't mean your interview can't draw out the same things. Most authors have lives of some sort on the side, with jobs or hobbies or something that differentiates them from your and me. Seize upon it, and find what makes them Them.

And one more thing on a basic level:
  • Don't ask "yes or no" questions; one-word answers are really boring answers
Not sure how to rephrase? Try inserting "How do you feel about" or "What are your thoughts on" to the beginning of the question instead, and work on the rephrasing from there.

What are some of your favorite interview questions to see asked, or, if you're a subject, to receive?

3 comments:

Heather Roddenberry said...

First: thanks for the shout out, Dahlia, you rock:)

I always try to take a look at what is already out there interview wise before conducting my own--and for the reasons you listed. I don't want to ask things that have already been asked over and over for starters and yes, I think you should absolutely do your research when you interviewing an author--and that means going beyond reading their book. I love researching so this is something I enjoy immensely when putting together an interview. But I think it's wonderful that you are pointing out that it's not only ok to do this--to read prior interviews-- but it can help you hone your own questions in the process. That's exactly what happened after reading your's with Leah. I loved what you asked her about writing those hot scenes, it was great because you were asking her writer to writer, and as a reader I was really curious about that as well, but maybe for different reasons than you--that led to my question of why she included those sexy scenes -was it necessary to do so to make the book work in her estimation. You asked the "How's" and I asked the "Why's" and I think it really worked well for us all in the end:)

I also love this in your post:

"Recently, I was asked how I end up interviewing the people I do for my blog, and I admitted that a big reason I rarely interview is that I prefer to focus on people doing things I find extremely interesting. I might love your book(s), but I don't feel the same compulsion to throw questions at you; I'll just fangirl, rec you to death, and support you as best I can. But when I see an author doing something I find really unique and interesting, whether in their writing or social media or within the greater realm of publishing, questions practically write themselves.""

YES, a million times yes. I love interviewing authors but I only want to do it if we can engage in conversation that is going to be thought-provoking and hopefully get people talking about it on their own. When Leah responded to my interview request I was SO FREAKING THRILLED because I had so much to say about Unteachable and all the issues of female sexual empowerment, taboo romance, etc. and I knew she did as well. I knew it was going to be a kick ass interview because the topic is a hot one and something I knew a lot of YA and NA readers were interested in. So yeah--I can love a book to pieces and totally plug it to everyone but when a book I read sparks something in me that invites discussion THOSE are the authors I want to interview.

Anyway--sorry for the excessive commenting but I'm really glad you and YA Misfits are talking about this topic because I know I was scared to interview authors in the beginning--and there are a lot of bloggers who feel the same. It's awesome that some of them might read this and feel a little more comfortable with the idea and it will hopefully encourage them to take that plunge too:)

Dahlia Adler said...

Not at all excessive - thanks so much for jumping in with your thoughts! I love that you have the same approach I do about pursuing the ones who really intrigue you rather than just ones whose books you love; I think it makes such a difference and it really shows, and you know how much I love that interview!

Mary Brown said...

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